This piece first appeared in the Atlantic as part of a forum on “Can Schools Be Fixed?” Education experts were asked to offer their reasons for optimism and pessimism going forward.
Reason for despair: Improved education is the key to the future for the U.S., as our economy depends on having a highly skilled workforce. While most people give lip service to the desire to improve schools in order to invest in the future, they often stop short of endorsing any significant changes in the schools. This reflects, in my opinion, two factors—an imperfect understanding of just how important quality schooling is for the country and complacency with the current situation. The complacency enters from the fact that the U.S. remains a wealthy country, leading to a sense that maybe it is alright just to keep going along as we are. From this complacency springs a myopia that is difficult to overcome but that could harm the future of the country.
Reason for hope: Over the past five years, my sense of hope and optimism has actually overtaken despair with U.S. schools. First, there is now broad recognition that quality teachers can lead to revitalized schools that are competitive internationally. Second, there is a new willingness by legislatures in a majority of states to push actively for more flexibility in hiring, paying, and retaining teachers and for improved teacher evaluations so that we identify the teachers that we want to nurture and retain. By focusing attention on the effectiveness of teachers in raising student achievement, these progressive states are setting the stage for U.S. schools to climb out of their doldrums and to compete with the top schools around the developed countries of the world. For the first time in the past half century there appears to be a strong possibility that we will serve all of our students and that we will restore the strength of the U.S. workforce.
– Eric A. Hanushek
Eric A. Hanushek is senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University